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Society, Politics & Law

The Trojan Horse gallops on

Updated Thursday 3rd July 2014

We need a more considered and balanced approach to school governance and not succumb to short term judgements, writes Jacqueline Baxter

Society Matters cartoon, the Trojan Horse Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Catherine Pain The Trojan Horse affair which has dominated the news for the last three months reached its apotheosis with the long awaited release of reports by Ofsted and The Education Funding Agency followed by a declaration by Michael Gove on the imperative for schools to teach ‘British Values’. But the area of values is not the only thing we should be concerned about. There is a bigger issue.
 
Exactly what those values are is as difficult to pin down as Michael Wilshaw’s ‘broad and balanced curriculum’, which even Her Majesty’s Chief inspector has stressed needs far greater clarification. David Cameron, echoed Gove’s call for teachers to actively value 'belief in freedom; tolerance of others; accepting personal and social responsibility and respecting an upholding the rule of law'. 
 
Ironically, back in Birmingham where the affair first began, police, government and city officials were simultaneously drawing up plans to deal with a summer of discontent from outraged communities who view the entire affair as a politically motivated witch hunt.
 
Political and media hysteria have dogged the affair from the start. A series of leaked reports combined with accusations that Ofsted’s handling of inspections has been less than transparent have brewed up a toxic climate of fear, suspicion and anger for schools and their governors in a number of areas of high ethnicity - not just Birmingham, but spreading to Luton, Bradford and east London.
 
Issues around religion and schooling have been bubbling to the surface for some time with increasing numbers of faith schools bringing the numbers to 6,832. But of these it should be noted that a mere 0.26% are Muslim schools whilst 67.34% are Church of England and 29.07% Roman Catholic. Even though the schools in the Trojan Horse case were specifically not faith schools, Labour have seized on the Trojan Horse affair to call for a cross party debate on religion education with Tristram Hunt suggesting that Ofsted should be responsible for inspecting how religion is taught in faith schools.
 
But The Trojan Horse affair, whilst it did impact on teaching in the schools inspected, was equally about the ways in which these schools were governed along with the extent of the power that governors now possess in the case of free schools and academies. The issue also raised real issues about the practicalities of such schools having so little local oversight and local accountability; issues which will not disappear overnight.
 
Such a rapid expansion of the academies programme along with the demise in Local Education Authority budgets and control, have left thousands of volunteer school governors accountable directly to Michael Gove. In addition to this, levels of support in the shape of training and development opportunities now largely have to be bought in from private providers. A Parliamentary Inquiry in 2014 noted the patchy quality of this training which ranged from the excellent to the execrable. 
 
But even cases where governors are trained, the current inspection system does not pay enough attention to how they are held to account during time constrained inspections lasting on average only 2 days. Whilst the revised Inspection Framework of 2012 places a far greater emphasis than previous iterations on the role of school governors, the time pressures instigated as a result of an enhanced focus on teaching and learning and teacher development leave very little time for an in depth focus on governance. This was apparent in the inconsistencies between the 2012 inspection on Park View Academy- one of the schools whose judgement was downgraded from outstanding to inadequate-in January 2012. It specifically noted that, ‘the governing body provides excellent strategic direction and is involved fully and systematically in evaluating the school.’
 
Yet the 2014 inspection, carried out as part of the Trojan Horse investigation revealed that Governance is inadequate and that, ‘the governing body of Park View and the trust have not ensured that they are properly informed about the effectiveness of all aspects of academy life.‘
 
The lack of transparency with regard to Ofsted’s approach to both inspections has been noted by Tim Brighouse amongst others, who questioned why Ofsted inspectors reported uncorroborated accounts of past events when direct observations have formed the cornerstone of school inspection up until now. The reasons why Ofsted failed to uncover such catastrophic failures in governance in their initial inspection are still far from clear leaving the inspectorate’s credibility and political impartiality hanging in the balance
 
The Trojan Horse affair has uncovered three major challenges for education in England: governance, religion and accountability. All of which have become problematic due to a rapid and arbitrary approach to increasing school autonomies whilst failing to ensure an effective way in which to hold these schools to account. Although the government is gradually moving to address this through a new system of regional commissioners, their initial efforts , evidenced in a leaked report to The Guardian are raising considerable concerns, not least in terms of the gender and ethnicity bias of the appointed commissioners so far, all of which are male despite women making up 84% of the education sector.  
 
Short term tendentious political responses based on fears, sound bites and media hype, will not lead to an effective longer term solution to the challenges facing the triad of governance, religion and accountability. Which if not addressed in a more considered way, risks the alienation school communities, and the creation of deep and enduring divisions in our society.
 

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it. Find out more about the blog and the team.
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Please note: The opinions expressed in Society Matters posts are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.

 

 

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